Can a jealous wife force a husband to fire an employee?

If a wife suspects her husband is having an inappropriate relationship with one of his female employees, is it legal to fire the female employee even if there’s no evidence of an affair?

iowa_supreme_court.jpgIt is in Iowa. The state’s Supreme Court ruled today that an “employee who has not engaged in flirtatious conduct may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.”

The court upheld a lower court ruling that Melissa Nelson, who had worked as a dental assistant for Dr. James Knight of Fort Dodge for 10 years, had no basis under the state’s civil rights act to sue him when he fired her at his wife’s demand.

The two had texted each other with what could be considered sexually suggestive messages. And when Dr. Knight fired Ms. Nelson, he told her it was because he might try to have an affair with her.

In her suit, Nelson claims the dentist discriminated against her on the basis of her gender. She also says the action could allow any employer to fire any employee just by saying “my wife is jealous.”

But the court today rejected her argument:


The civil rights laws seek to insure that employees are treated the same regardless of their sex or other protected status. Yet even taking Nelson’s view of the facts, Dr. Knight’s unfair decision to terminate Nelson (while paying her a rather ungenerous one month’s severance) does not jeopardize that goal. This is illustrated by the fact that Dr. Knight hired a female replacement for Nelson.

The court said its decision doesn’t mean that the dentist didn’t treat his employee badly, just that he didn’t treat her illegally.

The dentist’s attorney called the 7-0 ruling a victory for family values.

The woman’s attorney told the Associated Press it’s a case of blaming the victim.

“These judges sent a message to Iowa women that they don’t think men can be held responsible for their sexual desires and that Iowa women are the ones who have to monitor and control their bosses’ sexual desires,” said attorney Paige Fiedler. “If they get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it.”

Here’s the full opinon.

  • Kassie

    I see this and think, “Thank God I’m in a union.”

  • Robert Moffitt

    Iowa bumper sticker: “Being Hot Is NOT A Crime”

  • Mark Gisleson

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the same Iowa Supreme Court that had two of its members thrown out for OKing gay marriage? And replaced by extremely right wing judges?

    The right calls out the left for judicial activism, then does the same thing.

  • Joe

    So what happens if this gets combined…What if a man’s wife is having the same type of affiair with one of HER female employees? Wonder what they would do with that? Just sayin…

  • Alison

    Wow. Who would have ever thought that the 7 men on the court would side with a guy who couldn’t control his sexual desires?

  • Bose in St. Peter MN

    The thing that gets me about this, as a 53-y/o guy, is that the 53-y/o dentist didn’t hold himself accountable.

    He didn’t set professional boundaries with this employee (like, no more texting) and then stick to them like ethical professionals do (or terminate the employee for violating them). He didn’t create reasonable boundaries between his business and family life, asserting himself to his wife and pastor that a competent, loyal employee should stay on while he mans up about his own, um, visible attractions. (How many adult men are warning their female employees to watch their crotches, and getting away with that, anyway?)

    Mark, 3 justices were voted off the Iowa Court in 2010 and replacements were appointed by Governor Branstad in early 2011. Iowa’s non-partisan selection process meant that the Governor had to choose the 3 from among a slate of 9. They were all Republican-identified, but it’s not the case that Branstad got to scour the state for the most right-wing candidates.

  • Jamison

    Well, I think the key point is that “The court said its decision doesn’t mean that the dentist didn’t treat his employee badly, just that he didn’t treat her illegally.”

    The same decision would have been in place if, let’s say, Amy Koch fired Michael Broadkorp because she was attracted to him (and in retrospective maybe she should have hehehe). I don’t think the decision has anything to do with gender, but what’s “legal”.

    It says loads though, about the creep dentist. I mean, come on, if the guy actually had any feelings for this woman he would have arranged to maybe trade assistants with another dentist, or at least make sure she got placed in another office.

  • Tony

    Where is the picture of this irresistible Iowa beauty?

  • http://www.skyseastone.net/jvstin/ Paul (@princejvstin)

    That temptress!

    I recently re-read a SF novel set in the 21st century where a religious reawakening had taken place in the world following a devastating war.

    The main character, a woman, had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church because she had “tempted” her partner into infidelity, and that temptation had been judged to have led her partner to assassinate the Pope.

    Not so unlikely a world, is it?